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Trying times for arts groups that lean heavily on state funding

Missouri's budget shortfall has been felt everywhere from schools to state agencies to social service programs. Arts groups across St. Louis haven't been spared, either. Many are adjusting to the new reality of decreasing financial support from the state at a time when resources remain tight.

When Missouri's legislature passed the fiscal 2011 budget this spring, it included no funding for the Missouri Arts Council, the state entity that provides grants to a range of nonprofit organizations. A recent compromise from the board of directors that oversees the council's trust fund ensures that many of the arts groups that rely on state backing won't be shut out or see their grant awards drastically reduced. But the pool of available money has noticeably decreased.

A year ago, the Missouri Arts Council awarded $7 million in grants to nonprofit organizations across the state and made nearly $600,000 available for other arts-related grants. On Thursday, the council announced that it will award $6.1 million in grants during the coming fiscal year, which began July 1, and make nearly $480,000 available for other grants.

The council last week began notifying grant applicants whether their requests were approved and, if so, how much funding will be coming their way.

"Most of the organizations can expect less funding [this year], some will experience larger cuts than others and very few will see increases," said Bev Strohmeyer, executive director of the Missouri Arts Council.

Arts Organizations Not Caught Off Guard

States across the country are dealing with budget woes, and Missouri is no different. Top officials at St. Louis arts groups said they've known for months that cuts to their grant awards could be coming.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis went from receiving $135,117 from the Missouri Arts Council in fiscal 2010 to $63,366 for the coming fiscal year. Mark Bernstein, managing director of the Rep, said the decrease in support doesn't come as a surprise.

"We anticipated a reduction in funding this year because we knew the council's [zero-funding] situation," Bernstein said. "We just didn't know how much less we'd be getting. Funding from government agencies in general is weak across the board right now."

Funding from the Missouri Arts Council represents about 1 percent of the Rep's overall budget this year. Ticket revenue is the largest source of revenue, and Bernstein said the organization had a strong year in corporate and individual donations, which represents the largest sources of contributed income.

Grant money from the council goes toward general operating expenses to pay for programming at the Rep. Bernstein said that he doesn't anticipate any changes in programming due to the drop in state support. 

Opera Theatre of St. Louis is receiving $119,186 from the council in the coming year, compared with $152,616 the year before. Timothy O'Leary, the theater's general director, said the council all along was transparent about its funding situation and that "we're grateful to have what we have for next year."

O'Leary said he went into this year's budgeting process with the expectation that state funding would decrease. The organization last year took measures to balance its budget, including instituting a salary freeze and suspending a 401K match program for employees -- initiatives that remain in place.

Opera Theatre has seen a rise in individual contributions in the last two fiscal years. During the past year the organization benefited from a federal stimulus grant that helped it avoid staffing cutbacks.

"There's always a yin and a yang in funding, and luckily we aren't overly reliant on any one source of funding," O'Leary said.

Erin Vlasaty, treasurer of Clayton Community Theatre, also wasn't surprised by the decrease in state funding. Her group received $2,305 for the coming year, a drop of more than $1,000 from fiscal 2010.

While grant money from the council represented about 20 percent of the theater's budget last year, it will dip to 10 to 15 percent in the coming year, Vlasaty said.

"For the most part we exist off of our ticket sales, but we've been fortunate to receive funding from the council that has helped to improve the quality of shows," she said. "We'll have to be more creative [in fundraising] in coming years to make up for the loss in money."

Clayton Community Theatre already had chosen shows for the upcoming season by the time it learned of the funding decrease. Council support helps pay for a range of production costs.

Boo McLoughlin, executive director of Craft Alliance, said she was expecting as much as a 70 percent drop in state support and is "thrilled" that her organization only saw a 27 percent decrease in funding, from $27,398 to $20,104 for fiscal 2011. "I appreciate what I consider to be a courageous funding level on [the council's] part," she said.

'Painful' Cuts Made

Still, McLoughlin said any drop in support from grantors is significant, as roughly 40 percent of the organization's annual income comes from foundation and corporate support, as well as other fundraising efforts. Craft Alliance has seen a 25 percent reduction in funding from the Regional Arts Commission, which amounts to roughly $13,000 less in their coffers. The Arts and Education Council of St. Louis has also reduced the group's funding award.

Craft Alliance has received $60,000 in grants from new sources. And while smaller gifts from members have been on the rise, major gifts from individuals are down along with foundation support.

"It's been painful as we've had to gouge our budget as a result of these losses," McLoughlin said. "The most difficult part of this is the fact that our staff has had to take hits."

As part of its 20 percent budget reduction during the last fiscal year (which meant $400,000 in cuts), the entire staff took a 10 percent pay cut. Craft Alliance instituted a mandatory furlough program. And it didn't replace two staff members who left. The organization also reduced employees' medical benefits and cut its travel, advertising and professional development budgets.

Craft Alliance also made changes in its exhibition schedule. While it planned to host three national exhibitions at Grand Center, two will take place along with a master of fine arts student show, which is much less costly.

Black Cat Theatre in Maplewood has also scaled back because of funding drops. While the theater received roughly $800 more from the Missouri Arts Council this year than its $16,316 award during the previous fiscal year, the amount is still well off its total intake from fiscal 2009. The theater received less than $13,000 from the Regional Arts Commission this year, which is a 25 percent decrease from the previous year.

Scott Sears, executive director of Black Cat Theatre, said donations and ticket sales have decreased. In all, the theater is bringing in $100,000 less than it did two years ago, Sears said.

Black Cat Theatre has begun opting for smaller-cast shows to offset its funding losses. It has also cut back on the number of costlier union actors it hires. Sears said he was hoping to add two full-time employees and has only been able to add one part-timer.

"Over the course of our season we'll hire up to 60 artists, technicians and assistants," Sears said. "We'll have to come up with creative ways to keep these people employed."

Along with Black Cat Theatre, St. Louis Shakespeare was among the minority of arts group that saw their council funding increase this year. Its award rose to $26,169 from $19,642.

Donna Northcott, artistic director of St. Louis Shakespeare, said that "like everyone else we are struggling financially and finding that other sources of funding have decreased, so this is a very nice surprise."

The Missouri Arts Council is the largest source of funding for the group. This year, the council's award represents roughly one-fourth of the organization's budget. The money goes toward paying general operating costs.

St. Louis Shakespeare has no salaried personnel, and Northcott said the council grant increase will allow her to hire a production manager -- a job that she took on last year.

"We'll also have more wiggle room in terms of what we spend on sets and costumes," Northcott said. "The challenge we face is that almost all of our shows have 20 actors or more and built-in costume expenses because it is Shakespeare."

Funding Decision from State Lawmakers

The source of state revenue at issue is an income tax on anyone considered a professional athlete or entertainer who works but doesn't live in Missouri. By statute, revenue from the tax is to be appropriated to the Missouri Arts Council Trust Fund, which is used primarily to promote the arts in Missouri, and to the four so-called Cultural Partners, which include public broadcasters, the Missouri Humanities Council, the Missouri State Library Networking Fund and the Historic Preservation Revolving Fund.

But the funds are still subject to appropriation, and there's no state constitutional mandate directing the money into the council's coffers.

This year, with revenue coming from income and sales taxes continuing to be down, state lawmakers determined that money from the athletes' and entertainers' tax would be used for general revenue.

"They didn't zero-fund us because they didn't want to fund the arts, but because we have money in our trust fund to spend and they knew we wouldn't have to lose staff, which wouldn't have been the case if they had zero-funded other divisions in the state," Strohmeyer said.

The vast majority of the council's funding comes from the state. Last year, for instance, the council was slated to receive $8.8 million from Missouri and $761,500 from the National Endowment for the Arts, the only federal agency that supports the council. But because of the state's budget shortfall, the council received only half of that amount and dipped into its trust fund unexpectedly to pay out the remaining $4.4 million it had budgeted.

This year, the NEA is providing $783,800. While the state isn't providing new funding, it has given the council the spending authority to dip into its trust fund. The Missouri Arts Council Trust Fund board of directors, which includes the 15-member state-appointed council, four state lawmakers and the state treasurer, met earlier this month to approve its $8.4 million FY11 budget, $7.6 million of which is coming from its trust fund.

In past years, when the state has provided no funding, the council has funded as little as 30 percent of its overall grant requests. Strohmeyer said the agency didn't want to take such drastic terms this year because many arts groups are reliant on state funding during tough economic times.

"The decision is to maintain [last year's] budget as closely as possible without spending every penny possible out of the trust," Strohmeyer said.

As a compromise, the council board decided that for annual grants, it would fund 61 percent of the total amount of requests in each discipline, such as music, dance and literature. (Adding the arts services grants also awarded brings the average up to 63 percent of requested amounts) Last year, the council funded 78 percent of overall requests and didn't allocate a certain percentage for each area of the arts.

Citizen advisory panels in each discipline give grant applicants a score that measures artistic quality, community involvement and management ability. The score, which is given every few years, and the grant applicants' request amount determine the ceiling for what the individual arts groups can receive in annual grants. Any organization that scores lower than a 6 out of 10 doesn't get funded.

Strohmeyer said she expects the council at the end of this fiscal year to have roughly $10.4 million in its trust fund. "If we don't get funding in the next two years, we may have to stretch our money," she said.

A Setback for Public Broadcasters

In past years, public broadcasters in Missouri have benefited from the athletes' and entertainers' tax. The state typically allocates money from that tax to various public TV and radio stations based on a formula determined by legislation.

But as with the Missouri Arts Council, the stations and the other Cultural Partners are also being zero-funded in fiscal year 2011.

And while some arts groups have trust funds to rely on during lean years, the public broadcasters have no such rainy-day pools of money.

"This is likely to hit public broadcasting harder because they aren't getting any state dollars this year and don't have that fallback," Strohmeyer said.

In an already tough fundraising environment, St. Louis Public Radio recently learned of the unexpected financial setback.

As St. Louis Public Radio noted in an e-mail to its supporters, State revenue shortfalls "mean a direct cut of $41,000 this year and an $82,000 loss in expected revenue for the station in the next fiscal year." (The station received state payments for the first two quarters of FY2010 but not the last two -- the second year in a row that happened). This comes at a time when the station eliminated a major on-air fundraising campaign to air more uninterrupted programming.

Tim Eby, general manager of St. Louis Public Radio, said although state funding accounts for only a small part of the station's annual budget, the loss of potential revenue is damaging.

"While we won't have to eliminate positions [or shows], we won't be able to invest as much as we'd like into things locally," Eby said. "It's obviously a tough year for a lot of organizations from a budget standpoint. As state finances improve, we hope that our legislators will see the services that public television and radio provide and provide more support in the future."

Eby said St. Louis Public Radio will be looking to make up for the lost revenue with fundraising activities. Membership at the station is up over last year and other revenue sources remain mostly constant, he added.

Jack Galmiche, president and CEO of KETC/Channel 9, said he recognizes that the state faces budget challenges and needs to make cuts. But he said that "the proportion of the cuts to public television is disproportionate to cuts in other areas," and that the pain is felt immediately because KETC doesn't have a rainy-day fund to draw upon.

Revenue from the athletes' and entertainers' tax typically accounts for about 5 percent of KETC's budget, according to Galmiche. "These are dollars that we put directly toward programs and services that improve the lives of people in Missouri," he said. Programs like a recent one that highlighted the mortgage crisis in Missouri are threatened when the public broadcasters get no state funding, Galmiche added. (The Beacon partnered with KETC on the mortgage crisis project.)

Galmiche said the station is still determining how to make up for the loss in expected revenue. About 10 percent of KETC's funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. All other money comes from local sources, including individual donors, foundations and corporations.

"We continue to be in a challenging period as the country goes through an economic recovery and individuals take a close look at their own budgets and contributions," Galmiche said. "Philanthropic support is starting to increase, but we're not out of this period of concern."

Grants for Fiscal 2011


Sangeetha Music Vocal & Music Presenters $3,631

Soorya Performing Arts Dance $6,896


Abhinaya Dance $2,908

Alexandra Ballet Company Dance $18,892

Chesterfield Arts Community Arts Operating Support $20,809

Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce Music Instrumental $2,567

St. Louis Ballet Company Dance $16,529

Stages St. Louis Established Institutions $35,829

YMCA of Greater St. Louis (West County Branch) Multidiscipline $8,879


Clayton Community Theatre Theater $2,305


PAKT Community Resource Center Minority Arts $10,067


Alpha Players of Florissant Theater $5,223

Circus Day Foundation Multidiscipline $6,584

City of Florissant Festivals $15,152

Florissant Fine Arts Council Community Arts Operating Support $20,843

Hispanic Festival Festivals $5,328

Junior League of St. Louis Multidiscipline $16,198

Unity Theatre Ensemble Minority Arts $14,261


Folk School of St. Louis Folk Arts $2,000


City of O'Fallon Community Arts Operating Support $14,496

Laclede Quartet Music Instrumental $9,962

St. Charles

County Arts Council Community Arts Project Support $6,997

Saint Charles Foundry Art Centre Visual Arts $13,688

St. Charles Sister Cities Programs Festivals $6,962

St. Louis Brass Band Music Instrumental $4,875

St. Louis

A Better World Challenge America $5,340

African Heritage Association of St. Louis Festivals $17,144

ANNONYArts Dance $22,554

Art St. Louis Visual Arts $16,478

Arts & Treasures from Latin America Minority Arts $8,026

aTrek Dance Collective Dance $20,062

Avalon Theatre Company Theater $12,121

Bach Society of St. Louis Music Vocal & Music Presenters $23,750

Better Family Life Dance $15,096

Bi-State Development Agency Visual Arts $19,085

Big River Association Literature $13,888

Black Cat Theatre Theater $17,124

Boulevard Magazine Literature $7,018

Cameron Youth Chamber Orchestra Minority Arts $7,855

Catholic Charities Challenge America $7,381

Center for Survivors of Torture & War Trauma Challenge America $5,668

Center for Survivors of Torture & War Trauma Minority Arts $4,149

Cinema St. Louis Electronic Media $27,490

Circus Arts Foundation of Missouri Theater $27,192

City Academy Arts Education $6,314

COCA-Center of Creative Arts Challenge America $7,572

COCA-Center of Creative Arts Multidiscipline $19,728

Community Health-In-Partnership Services Minority Arts $10,964

Compton Heights Band Music Instrumental $16,733

Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis Arts Education $6,775

Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis Challenge America $6,172

Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis Mid-Sized Arts $34,041

Craft Alliance Visual Arts $20,104

Cultural Festivals Mid-Sized Arts $21,463

Dance Saint Louis Mid-Sized Arts $38,763

Dances of India Minority Arts $22,502

Diaspora Connections Unlimited Minority Arts $11,668

Diversity Awareness Partnership Challenge America $5,261

Double Helix Corporation (KDHX) Electronic Media $12,035

Fair St. Louis Foundation Festivals $18,253

First Civilizations Minority Arts $9,450

Gateway Men's Chorus Music Vocal & Music Presenters $5,167

Gitana Productions Challenge America $6,356

Gitana Productions Minority Arts $21,848

Grand Center Festivals $20,816

Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club of St. Louis Challenge America $7,352

Higher Education Consortium of Metropolitan St. Louis Multidiscipline $6,670

HotCity Theatre Theater $16,940

House of Pais Minority Arts $5,163

International Institute of Metropolitan St. Louis Festivals $20,242

Jamison Memorial Human Resource & Development Agency Minority Arts $10,109

Jazz Edge Minority Arts $4,865

Jazz St. Louis Mid-Sized Arts $31,770

Jewish Community Center Theater $21,218

Laclede's Landing Merchants Association Festivals $17,056

Laumeier Sculpture Park Mid-Sized Arts $24,942

Metro Theater Company Arts Education $6,759

Metro Theater Company Theater $28,956

Millennium Arts & Cultural Center Minority Arts $9,128

Missouri Alliance for Arts Education Arts Services $66,850

Modern American Dance Company Dance $23,114

Muddy Waters Theatre Company Theater $5,844

New Line Theatre Theater $10,723

New Music Circle Music Instrumental $11,948

North St. Louis Arts Council Minority Arts $5,834

Nu-Art Series Minority Arts $20,135

Opera Theatre of St. Louis Established Institutions $119,186

PenUltimate Press Literature $5,534

Peter & Paul Community Services Minority Arts $24,048

Philharmonic Society of St. Louis Music Instrumental $11,858

Primo Concerts Music Instrumental $5,260

Prison Performing Arts Theater $22,335

Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Established Institutions $63,366

Robert L. Reed Tap Heritage Institute Dance $23,937

Scottish Partnership for Arts & Education Arts Education $7,045

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis Mid-Sized Arts $30,726

Shaw Neighborhood Improvement Association Festivals $4,771

Sheldon Arts Foundation Established Institutions $43,505

Sherwood Forest Camp Challenge America $5,020

Show-Me Sound Organization Minority Arts $22,858

Springboard to Learning Challenge America $5,510

Springboard to Learning Multidiscipline $16,806

St. Louis Actors' Studio Theater $9,730

St. Louis African Chorus Music Vocal & Music Presenters $9,084

St. Louis Art Museum Established Institutions $151,013

St. Louis Artists' Guild Visual Arts $15,763

St. Louis ArtWorks Multidiscipline $25,317

St. Louis Black Repertory Company Mid-Sized Arts $31,144

St. Louis Cathedral Concerts Music Vocal & Music Presenters $25,489

St. Louis Chamber Chorus Music Vocal & Music Presenters $16,413

St. Louis Children's Choirs Music Vocal & Music Presenters $23,519

St. Louis Classical Guitar Society Music Instrumental $20,471

St. Louis Cultural Flamenco Society Dance $11,193

St. Louis Juvenile Detention Center Challenge America $6,577

St. Louis Poetry Center Literature $5,842

St. Louis Shakespeare Company Theater $26,169

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra Established Institutions $247,304

St. Louis Volunteer Lawyers & Accountants for the Arts Arts Services $15,000

St. Louis Women's Chorale Music Vocal & Music Presenters $11,605

Stray Dog Theatre Theater $20,352

That Uppity Theatre Company Theater $21,218

Union Avenue Opera Theatre Music Vocal & Music Presenters $22,018

University of Missouri-St. Louis (KWMU) Arts Services $5,000

University of Missouri-St. Louis (Storytelling) Festivals $22,081

University of Missouri-St. Louis (Cultural Series) Multidiscipline $7,175

University of Missouri-St. Louis (Gallery 210) Visual Arts $21,158

University of Missouri-St. Louis (PPRC Gallery) Visual Arts $20,802

Upstream Theater Theater $24,281

Washington University (Center for Humanities) Literature $2,655

Washington University (Edison Theatre) Multidiscipline $27,818

Washington University (Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum) Visual Arts $23,148

Webster University (Community Music School) Arts Education $6,399

Webster University (Community Music School) Challenge America $5,170

Webster University (Community Music School) Challenge America $5,417

Webster University (Film Series) Electronic Media $18,019

Webster University (Hunt Gallery) Visual Arts $19,085

Webster University (May Gallery) Visual Arts $14,897

St. Peters

City of St. Peters Community Arts Operating Support $20,062


University of Central Missouri (Pleiades) Literature $4,834

University of Central Missouri (Performing Arts Series) Multidiscipline $18,066

University of Central Missouri (Gallery of Art & Design) Visual Arts $12,645


Warren County Fine Arts Council Community Arts Project Support $10,995

Wright City

Innsbrook Institute Festivals $13,828

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

Elia Powers
Elia Powers is a Freelance Writer in St. Louis. He worked on several stories for the STL Beacon.